A lone polar bear drifting on an ice sheet, a red deer stag sat beside a Canadian motorway and tiger cub with three legs are just some of the stunning winning images from this year's Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer award.

The beautiful images were selected from over 48,000 entries from 98 different countries, and often contrast the natural world with the harmful consequences of the human life that surrounds it.

veolia Winner: Paul Nicklen (Canada). 'Bubble-jetting emperors'.

Now in its 48th year, the award winners were announced at a gala ceremony at the Natural History Museum in London where an exhibition of over 100 of the original will run starting 19 October, before setting off on a tour of the country.

Judged by a panel of industry-recognised professionals, the images, submitted by professional and amateur photographers alike, were selected for their creativity, artistry and technical complexity.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Ice matters

    <strong>Anna Henly (UK) - Winner</strong> Anna was on a boat in Svalbard – an archipelago midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole – when she saw this polar bear at around four in the morning. It was October, and the bear was walking on broken-up ice floes, seemingly tentatively, not quite sure where to trust its weight. She used her fisheye lens to make the enormous animal appear diminutive and create an impression of ‘the top predator on top of the planet, with its ice world breaking up’. The symbolism, of course, is that polar bears rely almost entirely on the marine sea ice environment for their survival, and year by year, increasing temperatures are reducing the amount of ice cover and the amount of time available for the bears to hunt marine mammals. Scientists maintain that the melting of the ice will soon become a major problem for humans as well as polar bears, not just because of rising sea levels but also because increasing sea temperatures are affecting the weather, sea currents and fish stocks.

  • Bubble-jetting emperors

    <strong>Paul Nicklen (Canada) - Winner</strong> This was the image Paul had been so hoping to get: a sunlit mass of emperor penguins charging upwards, leaving in their wake a crisscross of bubble trails. The location was near the emperor colony at the edge of the frozen area of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. It was into the only likely exit hole that he lowered himself. He then had to wait for the return of the penguins, crops full of icefish for their chicks. Paul locked his legs under the lip of the ice so he could remain motionless, breathing through a snorkel so as not to spook the penguins when they arrived. Then it came: a blast of birds from the depths. They were so fast that, with frozen fingers, framing and focus had to be instinctive. ‘It was a fantastic sight’, says Paul, ‘as hundreds launched themselves out of the water and onto the ice above me’ – a moment that I felt incredibly fortunate to witness and one I’ll never forget.

  • Flight paths

    <strong>Owen Hearn (UK) - Winner</strong> Harvest time at Owen’s grandparents’ farm draws in the birds of prey to feed on the fleeing small mammals, and it also attracts Owen, with his camera at the ready. ‘Seeing this red kite with an aeroplane in the distance was a moment I couldn’t miss,’ says Owen. The shot is symbolic for him for two reasons. It was taken at the centre of the Bedfordshire site chosen for London’s third airport back in the late 1960s. ‘Opposition to the planned airport stopped it going ahead, which is why I can photograph the wildlife on the farm today.’ At the same time, British red kites also faced extinction following centuries of persecution. But following reintroductions, numbers have increased dramatically, spreading east from the Chilterns.

  • Moonset at sunrise

    <strong>Vladimir Medvedev (Russia) - Winner</strong> As the full moon sunk below the horizon on one side of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Canada, the morning sun edged its way up at the other. The phenomenon occurs just once a month, and Vladimir was determined to photograph both celestial bodies simultaneously. ‘I chose a fisheye lens because its wide angle meant that I could include much of the sky as well as the dramatic landscape.’ He was lucky with the weather. Shortly after taking the shot, the clouds thickened and hid the sun for the remainder of its dawning.

  • Life in the border zone

    <strong>Vladimir Medvedev (Russia) - Winner </strong> The stillness of the red deer stag in the twilight made it almost invisible to motorists speeding down thehighway through Jasper National Park, Canada. But its silhouette at the side of the road caught Vladimir’s eye. By the time he had pulled over, this image was already in his mind. ‘I wanted to show how the natural world often exists so close to us, yet is so often unseen,’ he says. Working swiftly, Vladimir positioned his tripod and set the shutter speed low, so that headlights would leave the longest light trail possible, and waited for a truck to thunder by, hoping the deer wouldn’t move. ‘The stag may have been inconspicuous, but I wasn’t. As long as I stayed there, it was no longer invisible. So I left straight away, so as not to betray its presence.’

  • Relaxation

    <strong>Jasper Doest (The Netherlands) - Commended</strong> In winter, Japanese macaques in the Jigokudani Valley of central Japan congregate in the hot-spring pools, to stay warm and to socialise. The colder it gets in the mountains, the more of them head for the pools, as do humans. Jasper found about 30 macaques enjoying a steamy soak, their heads covered in fresh snow. ‘The warm water has a very relaxing effect on the monkeys, and most of them were asleep.’ He watched with delight as this youngster became increasingly drowsy and eventually closed its eyes. ‘It’s such an honour when an animal trusts you enough to fall asleep in front of you,’ says Jasper. ‘I used a close-up shot to capture the moment of tranquillity and to emphasise the human likeness in both face and pleasure.’

  • Last wild picture

    <strong>Steve Winter (USA) - Runner-up</strong> These 14-month-old Bengal tiger cubs, cooling off in the Patpara Nala watering hole in Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India, turned man-eaters before they were two years old. Between them, they killed three people. But the authorities didn’t kill the tigers. Instead, they captured them and moved them to a facility for ‘problem’ tigers in Bhopal, from which they will never be released. But elsewhere in India and everywhere in their range, tigers are being killed in huge numbers. Fewer than 3,200 remain in the wild, down from 100,000 a century ago. Three of the nine subspecies (the Bali, Caspian and Javan tigers) are now officially extinct, and the South China tiger almost certainly is. The deaths are due to the devastating impact of the demand for tiger parts for traditional Chinese medicine and sky-rocketing human populations, which have eliminated 93 per cent of the tiger’s historic range during the twentieth century. Settlements, roads, industry and agriculture all encroach on tiger territory, sparking growing human-wildlife conflict. The remaining wild tigers cling on in isolated pockets, their numbers declining rapidly.

  • Sunset over the land of rhinos

    <strong>Brent Stirton (South Africa) - Runner-up</strong> This is how rhinos should be seen, in their natural terrain, unfenced and with room to roam. The actual location is Imfolozi and Hluhluwe Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. This is not only one of South Africa’s oldest and largest wildlife reserves but also the world’s largest repository for rhinoceroses, home to about 2,000, mainly southern white, though with some black. It’s also a major poaching site. In 2011 in South Africa, more than 450 rhinos were killed for their horn, often by wellorganised and well-armed gangs, using helicopters and with a supply route to northern ports for export to the Far East.

  • Little victim

    <strong>Steve Winter (USA) - Winner</strong> A snare cost this six-month-old Sumatran tiger cub not only its right front leg but also its freedom. Caught in a snare for three days, it had to have its limb amputated. Now it lives in a cage in a Javan zoo. Snares commonly catch cubs in Sumatra. They are often set by Javan oil-palm-plantation workers living on forest plots. The workers’ wages are low, and they won’t see a return on any oil palms they plant on their land for at least five years and so are forced to catch forest animals to feed their families. Tigers are also being snared deliberately.

  • Dog days

    <strong>Kim Wolhuter (South Africa) - Winner</strong> Kim has been filming African wild dogs at Zimbabwe’s Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve for more than four years. He knows one pack intimately. ‘I have travelled with them, on foot, in the pack itself, running with them as they hunt. It’s a privilege, and it’s given me a true insight into their life.’ Kim has also witnessed first hand the many threats that have made African wild dogs endangered, including increased conflict with humans and domestic animals (poachers’ snares, habitat loss, traffic and disease). ‘At times, it’s heartwrenching,’ he says. ‘My mission is to dispel the myth that they’re a threat and help raise awareness of their plight.’ African wild dogs require huge territories, and so protecting them can protect entire ecosystems. When this picture was taken, the pack had travelled four kilometres to the Sosigi Pan, only to find it totally dried up. ‘The mosaic of mud seemed to epitomise the increasingly fragmented world this puppy is growing up in.’